Big skies

Caesar Otway published his very entertaining A Tour in Connaught: comprising sketches of Clonmacnoise, Joyce Country, and Achill (available online here) in 1839. He visited Clonmacnois by boat:

The Shannon, once you clear the rapids which lie on either side of Athlone, until it enters Lough Derg, is perhaps, the ugliest and least interesting stream of any in the three kingdoms. Surrounded with bogs, it creeps through dismal flats, and swamps; and the narrow tracts of meadow, and small patches of cultivation along its banks only tend like green fringes to a mourning drapery, to mark off, as by contrast, the extreme dreariness of the picture. Oh ! how unlike is Father Shannon to Father Severn or Father Thames; here no trade, except that carried on by one steam-barge, no timber, no smiling lawns, no cultivation the solitary hopelessness of the bog is all around, and nothing interrupts the silence of the waste but the wild pipe of the curlew, as it whistles over the morass, or the shriek of the heron, as it rises lazily from the sedgy bank, and complains aloud against our unwonted interruption of its solitary speculations. If ever there was a picture of grim and
hideous repose, it is the flow of the Shannon from Athlone to Clonmacnoise. […] A tedious row of about ten miles down the
most dreary of navigations brought us in sight of Clonmacnoise […].

I’ve met many modern boaters who share Otway’s opinion, but I think they’re all missing the point. Earlier, Otway had written:

How unlike most other islands is Erin: its mountainous districts all around the shores, its centre only just so elevated as to allow a drainage towards the Shannon, which also, unlike every other inland river, runs parallel to the greatest length of the isle.

Ireland has been compared to a saucer. The centre is not entirely without its hills and mountains, but it does have a lot of wide open space. And that means that the skies are the dominant feature of the waterways landscape. The visitor in search of delight (and indeed of light) need only look upwards.

The sun doesn't have to be shining ....

The sun doesn’t have to be shining ….

... although it's nice when it does ...

… although it’s nice when it does …

... but you can get interesting light even in a gale ...

… but you can get interesting light even in a gale (Enniskillen) …

... and that wonderful watery look in the sky ...

… and that wonderful watery look in the sky (here, over Lough Neagh) …

... with an ethereal, evanescent quality ...

… with an ethereal, evanescent quality (here at Enniskillen) …

... not to speak of the special effects at dawn (Athlone) ...

… not to speak of the special effects at dawn (Athlone) …

... or dusk (Garrykennedy) ...

… or dusk at Garrykennedy …

... or Kilgarvan, both on Lough Derg.

… or Kilgarvan, both on Lough Derg.

Sometimes it's the shapes of the clouds that appeal ...

Sometimes it’s the shapes of the clouds that appeal …

... and sometimes it's the shapes of the clouds that appeal ...

… and sometimes intensity of colour attracts the eye …

... or just their mass ...

… or just the mass of the clouds.

... and sometimes it's the insignificance of the land, caught between water and sky ...

Sometimes it’s the insignificance of the land …

... caught between water and sky ...

… caught between water and sky …

... or the looming power and intensity of the clouds.

… or the looming power and intensity of the clouds.

Sometimes it's the interaction between light and water ...

Sometimes it’s the interaction between light and water …

... or between the sky and some land-based feature ...

… or between the sky and some land-based feature …

... the simple contrast ...

… or the simple contrast …

... between light and dark ...

… between light and dark.

But above all it's the immensity ...

But above all it’s the immensity …

... of those big wide open midland skies.

… of those big wide open midland skies.

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